What’s the Endgame with North Korea?

As most readers are aware, tensions between the United States and North Korea have been ratcheting upwards lately, with fiery words in the media between President Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un of North Korea becoming a near-weekly occurrence. North Korea has tested many missiles and recently detonated a hydrogen bomb near its Punggye-ri test site in the country’s northern region.

North Korea’s weapons program threatens to marry these two technologies into an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that could potentially take out an American city, a possibility that President Trump has said will not be allowed to be realized.

But in order to try to deter the North Koreans from their program of rapid weapon technology advancement, thus far, only trade sanctions have been applied to the rogue regime and to some of the countries doing business with them, to little effect.

President Trump has threatened, however, that much more punitive sanctions could soon be applied. By these, he means that certain countries — namely China, which is North Korea’s most important and largest trading partner — could be forced to stop acting as a middleman between North Korea and the rest of the world as far as banking is concerned.

As opposed to previous trade sanctions, which North Korea was able to perform an easy end-run around, either by using China as a surrogate trading partner or by slapping “Made in China” labels on North Korean-manufactured goods, these new punitive sanctions could result in locking both North Korea and China out of the Western/international banking settlement system (known as SWIFT) entirely.

This would have the effect of nearly instantly shutting down much of the trade between the U.S. and China, a step that would have dramatic consequences for both the Chinese and American economies, which share a $650 billion volume in annual trade. While the U.S. could likely switch to other trading partners for a supply of goods over time, such an action would be crippling for China, which depends on the U.S. as the primary market for most of its exports.

However, it should be known that as a member of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) nations, China has been talking with the other members of this bloc — which is responsible for roughly 42 percent of the world’s gross domestic product — for years. Recently, at a BRICS conference in the Chinese city of Xiamen, Russian President Vladimir Putin proposed new links between China and Russia that would allow trade between the two countries to occur that would not be denominated in U.S. dollars; instead, the Russian ruble or the Chinese yuan would be used and backed up by large holdings of gold that both countries have been hoarding.

This bypassing of the U.S. dollar would restrict the U.S. from having any influence or control over trade for valuable commodities such as oil or rare-earth minerals or goods produced and sold by China or Russia. In addition, preventing China from accessing SWIFT could have the unforeseen consequence of driving the People’s Republic to open up trading and capital flows with Russia and other BRICS nations much faster than had previously been anticipated. From a Chinese economic perspective, things could be very rocky at first, but a unilateral action such as this by the U.S. could be “the straw that breaks the camel’s back” in terms of pulling the rest of the world away from dollar-based trade settlement and isolating America on the world stage.

Because America is in a rather dire economic position due to its national debt and the relative poverty of its citizens, it can scarcely afford for such punitive sanctions against China to have the opposite (and longer-term) effect than they’re intended to; until now, it was envisioned that China would likely back down instantly if it really looked like such sanctions would be applied. But what if China didn’t back down? In that case, from a financial standpoint, it would be near suicidal for the U.S. to make such moves because they might not be able to be undone.

Faced with the prospect of economic disaster, there might only be one avenue left for the U.S. to deal with North Korea — the much-dreaded military option. Although President Trump and his national security team have stressed that military action is highly undesirable, it’s possible that other routes may, in fact, look more unpalatable, particularly from a long-term perspective. If it appears that a brief but possibly devastating attack resulting in heavy North Korean casualties could resolve the Korean peninsula crisis once and for all, this may be an acceptable scenario that Trump and his generals might be willing to live with.

But the big question is whether China would back up its previous statements that it would come to the aid of North Korea if the latter country was preemptively attacked by the U.S. This may be why the belligerent words of President Trump have been aimed at trying to provoke North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un into making the first move militarily. In the latter scenario, China has claimed that it would stay “neutral” if a conflict were to occur. But realistically, it’s hard to see China putting the lives of millions of its citizens in harm’s way to save the life of “Rocket Man” and his Hollywood-extra-like generals, along with several million starving North Koreans, no matter which side fired first in a clash.

If a hypothetical battle between the U.S. and North Korea (which likely would be fought only with non-nuclear weapons) was extremely limited in terms of its time frame and geographic scope, China — and potentially even Russia — would probably be reluctant to become involved in any major way. To be sure, they would yell and scream at the United Nations and in other venues; there might be extreme trade and economic consequences for the U.S., but at the end of the day, it’s almost certain that no nation is going to stick its neck out for North Korea.

Likewise, China is likely to realize that in terms of conventional weapons, it’s heavily outgunned by the United States. If one removes nuclear weapons from the equation (a near necessity if the world is to survive relatively unscathed), the U.S. would be the winner of any imagined conflict with People’s Republic — China is simply not strong enough to face down its largest adversary at this time.

Hence, a military option may be the only realistic solution to the North Korean crisis, unless some other avenue involving sanctions can be worked out with China that wouldn’t alienate it as a trading partner. It’s quite possible that China knows this — and is simply using North Korea as a way to jump-start a new international trading system that leaves the U.S. out in the cold. Certainly, the longer the United States lets Kim Jong Un proceed down the path of weapons development, the fewer the palatable (or realistic) options there are for America to remain the dominant economic and military power it is today.

~ American Liberty Report